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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Trouble in Paradiso: Giuseppe Tornatore's "The Unknown Woman"

    A deliberately titillating scene opens Giuseppe Tornatore's "The Unknown Woman": three women wearing masks, asses to audience, stand naked in a strangely gilded room to be examined through peepholes. After they're dismissed, a second round comes out, and a blonde is asked to step forward and strip; "She'll do fine," an offscreen male voice intones. As usual, the "Cinema Paradiso" director has an eye for the voluptuous female form, but the lascivious voyeurism of his camera -- contained (Tornatore thinks) in his preceding movie, "Malena," by embedding its obsessive gaze within the point of view of a horny adolescent boy -- is made explicit ...

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    REVIEW | Muscle-Bound: Chris Bell's "Bigger Stronger Faster*"

    Though it comes across as hale and hearty, Chris Bell's "Bigger Stronger Faster*," a litany of American body worship touchstones since the early Eighties, is nothing if not ambivalent towards its subject. Falling somewhere between a specific personal essay and a more vaguely targeted social commentary, Bell's documentary, a freeform expose of steroid use in the U.S., is, somewhat inevitably, a product of narcissism and insecurity, not unlike the psychological forces that compel bodybuilding and athletic determination in the first place. Fledgling feature filmmaker Bell, a self-described "fat, pale kid from Poughkeepsie" turns his camera on hi...

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    REVIEW | Beyond the Pale: Tom Kalin's "Savage Grace"

    Tom Kalin's 1992 film "Swoon" was a noteworthy entry in the New Queer Cinema canon not because of its subject matter but how Kalin navigated such precarious terrain. A recouping of the Leopold and Loeb murder as an emotionally ambivalent expression of homosexual historicity via a not necessarily uns...

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    REVIEW | Irreconcilable Differences: Parvez Sharma's "A Jihad for Love"

    Homosexuality isn't a choice, but often, many forget, neither is religion. And this is certainly the case for the world's dense population of devout Muslims, now comprising the second largest religion in the world. Since the dictates of various orthodoxies seem almost by design to painfully rub up a...

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    REVIEW | Scattered People: Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven"

    A German filmmaker of Turkish descent, Fatih Akin has made hybrid cultures and hyphenated identities his great subject. "Head-On," his acclaimed breakthrough film from 2004, told a love story between two German Turks that wended its way back to the homeland. In "The Edge of Heaven," his latest, the fixation on blurred borders and social dislocation continues on a larger canvas. Several characters shuttle back and forth between Turkey and Germany, even as the quest for home and rest seems increasingly quixotic. But let the overstuffed "The Edge of Heaven" be a lesson: Just multiplying and magnifying your obsessions does not make them any more ...

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    REVIEW | Book Smart: Joachim Trier's "Reprise"

    Norwegian Joachim Trier directs his debut feature, "Reprise," with such assured kineticism that it's only a matter of time before Hollywood gets his hands on him and turns him into an anonymous hack. That's not merely cynicism or a judgment call on Trier's foregrounded visual flair, which, unlike most other flashy films pitched at the speed of youth, actually contains more true invention than gimmick; it's just a sad fact of a ravenous industry that subsumes European directors the same way it snatches up the new foreign, art-house ingenue and plunks her down as the latest Bond girl--it only sees the surface sheen. Trier's considerable talents...

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    REVIEW | Father Figurines: Christopher Zalla's "Sangre de mi sangre"

    If writer-director Christopher Zalla's intent in "Sangre de mi sangre" was to sympathetically and realistically depict the plight of impoverished Mexican illegal immigrants trying desperately to eke out anonymous existences in urban U.S. areas, why does he litter his workmanlike debut film with char...

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    REVIEW | Embedded: Nick Broomfield's "Battle for Haditha"

    "What do you wanna know?" A young Marine casually utters this question at the outset of "Battle for Haditha," and it's a fitting epigraph to Nick Broomfield's blistering, ambitious film. The query prefaces the PFC's offhand account of his service and the conditions of his barracks in Haditha, Iraq, but it could easily be Broomfield's own inquiry to his audience: In a singularly brutal and cloudy episode of the war, a group of Marines is attacked by insurgents and retaliates by unleashing their notion of justice on a small residential enclave, killing some twenty-four people. What do you want to know about these events, and what means do you h...

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    REVIEW | Imagine That: Tarsem Singh's "The Fall"

    Playwright John Guare must have had Indian director Tarsem Singh (or as he's often simply known, Tarsem) in mind when he wrote about the increasing exteriorization of the term "imaginative": "Why has 'imagination' become a synonym for style?" Singh makes films that inspire a bevy of similarly misuse...

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    REVIEW | Changes: Lucia Puenzo's "XXY"

    Though it's as sullen and damp-grey as its morose 15-year-old protagonist, Argentinean filmmaker Lucia Puenzo's directorial debut "XXY" doesn't really get inside the mind of young Alex as much as watch her with an awkward combination of fascination and empathy. It's both a success and a failing on the new filmmaker's part; her intention in making "XXY," to humanely depict a character who might in other films or literature be relegated to oddball supporting status, is undoubtedly noble. Yet by focusing almost exclusively on Alex's differences (she was born with both female and male genitalia), rather than offering other facets of her life for ...

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